Role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) have become increasingly popular in recent years—and why not? It’s a fun hobby in which players work together to overcome challenges, often in memorable and hilarious ways.
For kids and teens, however, it can be difficult to get into. One of the barriers to entry is the rules which can feel overwhelming to learn. Spells in D&D are great fun until you have to cross-reference them to see which is the best spell to use in a situation.
Instead, there is one game that I find myself using quite regularly with older kids and teens. Barebones Fantasy, designed by DwD Studios, is an awesome fantasy RPG that my students can’t stop talking about.
Without further ado, let’s see what makes this such a hit with the kiddos!
Overview: What is Barebones Fantasy about?
Players take on the roles of heroes in the fictional world of Kerenak, venturing out in search of gold, loot and adventure.
Like 13th Age (an RPG I use with older teens), Barebones Fantasy is a fantasy RPG that comes in a neat, easy-to-read, 82-page rulebook. Players take on the roles of heroes in the fictional world of Kerenak, venturing out in search of gold, loot and adventure. A game master (GM) directs the story and action, creating interesting situations for players to overcome. During the course of the game, players will declare their actions to the GM, rolling dice when performing difficult actions to see if they succeed or fail.
In this way, both players and GM will collaboratively weave epic tales of brave deeds and sometimes hilarity. Game masters can run one-off, self-contained sessions or long-term campaigns that span months or even years.
Gameplay: How are the mechanics like?
Players will create characters with varying degrees of Strength, Dexterity, Logic, and Willpower, represented by scores ranging from 35 to 80. They will also choose skills that they are proficient in, such as “Warrior” and “Thief“.
The core of the game is really simple. Want to hit something? Declare your attack action to the GM, roll the dice, then check it against your character’s Warrior score. If the number on the dice is lower than your Warrior’s score, you succeed. The same applies if you want to steal something or break a lock—just measure it against your Thief score instead.
Spells are also flexible and easy to comprehend. Rather than have a multitude of individual spells, they exist more as “types” here. For instance, Offensive Strike is a spell that hurts enemies, but players have complete freedom over what effect it produces, be it lightning, fire, or even rainbow unicorns. Another example is Control Weather, which lets characters control any aspect of the weather, including rain and the wind.
Combat is a large part of Barebones Fantasy. Players will often as not have to engage in combat, but it flows very nicely. Like in traditional RPGs, players take turns to declare what they want their characters to do. Unlike most RPGs, however, characters can perform multiple actions on their turn. They can also actively choose to dodge, block, and parry their opponents’ attacks. It’s a very dynamic and fast-paced system that lets players roll dice constantly, keeping them on their toes and focused on the action.
Younger players: Why do they enjoy this game?
As an RPG, Barebones Fantasy hits all the right notes. It is fast-paced, very customisable. and tells a good story. I’ve had kids create all kinds of characters, ranging from an academically inclined sorceress to an enchantress with the ability to tame the most ferocious of animals. It is highly empowering for students, especially for those with lower levels of self-confidence, to be able to visualise their characters pulling off almost-impossible stunts to save the day.
Moreover, the rules are very easy to follow. I would hesitate using all of the rules for the really young kids (especially for those struggling to read), but those who are 9 and above rarely had an issue keeping up. It’s only the multiple actions and active dodging/parrying rules that might lead to some confusion, so I would advise game masters to avoid using them if the players are still new to the game.
Adventure awaits the young explorer!
Through Barebones Fantasy, my students and I have created countless stories. They’ve partaken in grand adventures, weathered difficult tribulations, and saved the world at least once. Whether it’s assisting a group of villagers to get rid of some goblin raiders who had been terrorising their village, or diving into the Lair of the Witches to stop a world-destroying ritual, these stories have helped them to create fond memories, make friends, learn new skills, and overall enjoy the process of doing so.
Weak bestiary: a glaring flaw
While I like Barebones Fantasy a lot, the bestiary is really weak. It features only 47 entries for the potential monsters/creatures that you’ll encounter in Kerenak. Although it has solid rules for creating your own creatures, it can be troublesome when you need to whip up an enemy that’s not listed in the book in a pinch. Perhaps someday DwD Studios will publish a supplement with more creatures (complete with stats). We can only hope!
Final thoughts on Barebones Fantasy as a child-friendly RPG
As an RPG by itself, Barebones Fantasy is a blast to play; as an RPG for kids, it is one of the best introductory games. It’s flexible enough so that players don’t have to get into arguments about rules, while still having solid mechanics built around numbers; it also flows well, supporting both theatre of the mind and maps-and-miniatures play styles. There is even a section to help GMs generate randomised areas, including dungeon layouts. On a few occasions, I got kids as young as 11 to game master for their peers, and they did it flawlessly. This is a really good system, and I cannot recommend it enough for people who want to introduce RPGs to their kids.